Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Different things propel me to buy and read a book. One of the most certain triggers is winning a Nebula or Hugo award. Learning that a book with one award is nominated for the other? Slam-dunk!
These doorways are passages to another realm through which children have walked, crept, fallen or flown in many tales. Dorothy's trip, for example, ends with her return to the Kansas farm, but what happens to her afterward? How does she cope with her sepia life on the prairie after the flowery Munchkins and flying monkeys of Oz? She must yearn even more for what lies beyond the rainbow, having experienced it once.
McGuire's story examines these transported children, now exiled from fairyland and unbelieved by their families. All yearn to find again the doorway that gave access to the home of their heart. At Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, parents are told the school's strict discipline will wean their child from fantasy. Actually, the quest is opposite; the child will be helped to return, if she can, if he will, for the home's founder knows full well that returning through that doorway is possible.
If one has the heart of a child.
The hearts of those in this home are broken, damaged by their tenure in realms with rules and requirements that no longer apply. Nancy, for example, learned to freeze and be still in the Halls of the Dead, to maintain life lightly on a minimum of food while she stayed in that land. Her stillness will be tested by her roomate Sumi, whose hot nonsense was perfectly designed to help her survive in the Candyland beyond her own door.
Nancy's parents want to bring her back to "normal," even swapping her monochrome wardrobe for frilly, colorful things. Fortunately, her new home hosts Kade, who collects and remakes clothing discarded by the other inmates. Kade will help Nancy replace her pilfered clothes with some in her preferred black and white, and also help her realize that while her family may be clueless, they still want her. Kade's parents don't want him; they want the little girl he was before he vanished through a hidden door years before.
Familial rejection is dark enough, but there is a deeper darkness rising under the Home for Wayward Children. Its coming will test all the lost and yearning hearts seeking their doors, and show each child how strength can grow from loss and be victorious, even over death.
This is a unique story, moving and full of revelation. I had no problem seeing why it earned a Nebula and a Hugo nomination.